CAGNEY & LACEY
UK channel: BBC One
Cast: Tyne Daley, Sharon Gless, Al Waxman, Carl Lumbley
In this week’s Throw Back Thursday we go back to the 1980s, and 1980s New York City.
Cagney & Lacey, that chalk-and-cheese female cop pairing was a global hit throughout that decade, catapulting stars Tyne Daley and Sharon Gless to superstar status.
Together, they formed a crimefighting duo in Mary Beth Lacey (Daley) and Christine Cagney (Gless), two women from two different backgrounds, and who were living two very separate lives: Mary Beth was honest, down-to-earth, played by the rules and was a mother with a husband; Christine, on the other hand, was a tough, gritty, working-class women with a well-to-do mother, a smart mouth and a glint in her eye.
Together they shouldn’t have worked, but they did – not only becoming one of the city’s most inscrutable detective pairings but also firm friends outside of work.
With Manhattan’s 14th Precinct as a backdrop, Cagney & Lacey was a mystery-of-the-week show with a big difference – the two lead characters were female. In an industry that still deemed an overload of female characters a bad thing, these two blazed a trail across NYC and the world.
Why we loved it:
Interestingly, producer Barney Rosenzweig was influenced by the feminist movement through his then-girlfriend Barbara Corday, who recommended to him Molly Haskell’s book From Reverence to Rape. After learning through Haskell that there had never been a female buddy film, Rosenzweig sought to make one, a comedy initially titled Newman & Redford (before changing the title for legal reasons). No studio wanted to make the film, so Corday considered taking it to television and that’s where it found a home.
So initially, because of its heavy female presence, Cagney & Lacey felt like a real breath of fresh air.
But, like any other buddy cop show or movie, the proof of the pudding is in the characters and the actors who played them.
Sharon Gless – with her sass and raspy voice – was perfectly cast as Christine, while Tyne Daley’s earthiness was a good fit for Mary Beth’s no-nonsense mum-at-work.
Together they formed a formidable duo, getting into scrapes, kicking male chauvinism in the you-know-where and gaining the respect of their peers.
For a young boy growing up in the 1980s, Cagney & Lacey felt like the best show on TV – the energy created by Gless and Daley fairly crackled off the screen. And yet, for a cop show, this never felt threatening, overbearing or heavy – it was subversive yes, but also good fun, pacey and very much of the time.
This was the 1980s in all its brilliant, vivid, ridiculous best.
What they said:
“But it wasn’t really the crime stories that defined the show, rather the constant undertow of sisterhood –Cagney & Lacey was, at heart, a platonic love story between its two lead characters. A truly feminist cop drama? You better believe it.” Kira Cochrane, The Guardian
Did you know?
Actress Loretta Swit played the role of Christine Cagney in the original television movie (October 1981), but was forced to decline the role in the series when the producers of M*A*S*H refused to let her out of her contract. When the movie was picked up as a series, first airing with six episodes as a midseason replacement in the spring of 1982, Meg Foster portrayed the character. When the show was picked up for a regular season in 1982, Foster was replaced with Sharon Gless because CBS deemed Foster too aggressive and too likely to be perceived as a lesbian by the viewers.